Ronnie MacDonald explains how the Offshore Industry Liaison Committee plans to the the newly formed Offshore Workers' Union by focusing on health and safety iisues and the need for workers' unity on the rigs.
Among the many regulations under the Health and Safety at Work Act never extended offshore was the 1977 regulation on Safety Committees.
The trade unions have consistently maintained that these regulations should be extended offshore. But the Cullen Report on the Piper Alpha disaster said that Department of Energy regulations introduced under Parkinson should be given a chance and be reviewed two years from the introduction date.
Since then, the trade unions, individually or collectively, with the possible exception of MSF, have developed no policy or response to that review.
Indeed, when the matter was discussed at the last inter-union offshore oil committee, the EETPU delegate claimed that we didn't have to worry about input to the review because an incoming Labour government would implement the 1977 regulations.
That's pie in the sky.
Throughout the history of the industry, no union has been able to develop intelligent policy on the safety issues which are top priority for offshore workers. MSF is the sole exception although there are flaws with their position as well.
The EC directive which will be the framework for safety in the extractive industry will be integrated into member states' laws on 12 December 1992.
In the final drafting stage in committee, there were 19 amendments to the proposed legislation. Eight of these came from us, OILC, and none at all from the trade unions who purport to represent offshore workers.
Similarly, the lion's share of the submissions on behalf of the workforce to the Energy Select Committee investigation on safety in the industry, came from us although MSF did make a submission.
We have been making the running on these issues, and we've also been tryng to convince the trade unions that what we are doing should be done in their collective name.
We have been forced to launch a new union because the existing unions stonewalled.
When the unions met in Brighton, and announced they were going to form the offshore confederation, what induced the AEU and the EETPU to participate was the promise that the OILC would be wiped out. That was the only unifying factor in the room.
Now if we disappear, the workers' unity will disappear. Everything that we have done over the last two years will be undone. We had absolutely no choice in doing what we've done.
The workers' response to the new union has been extremely favourable, even though, officially, the recruitment campaign only starts today.
Many people want to support OILC and retain membership of existing unions, and I think we have to look at the Bridlington rules [of the TUC, governing conflicts between unions over membership].
I don't want to be misconstrued as attacking the Bridlington rules. We ned such a code of practice.
The original spirit of Bridlington was that every worker in the UK should be represented by an appropriate union. Bridlington has basically broken down on that score.
Our project isn't a right-wing piece of member-grabbing. We are ordinary workers asserting our right to adequate representation and organisation which has evaded us for 17 years because of the refusal of eight unions to have a unified approach.
The unions have failed to work together effectively not because of us but because their leaders couldn't get on with each other.
We already have a base on the rigs, where a majority of stewards support OILC.
Offshore workers are going to be very hard hit by the freedom of labour provisions.
There will be compulsory open tendering on major engineering contracts of over £150,000. The whole series of directives is going to have a very serious effect.
Norwegians, Dutch and Danes are relying on having the UK sector unionised and vice versa. So it's absolutely crucial that we have the organisational wherewithal and the ability to organise in the place.
We cannot mess about any more, it's crisis time. To do nothing is just not an option.
Ronnie MacDonald talked to Socialist Organiser on 14 October.